African Adventure – meeting the neighbors

June 18, 2010

Africa

Got up early (this could become a habit!) and went for a morning run a few miles down the dirt road. I passed a few locals that stared strangely after me. I’m not sure if it was my pale Mzungu skin that caught their eye, or the fact I was wearing shorts. *lol* Probably #2 since I managed to have a kiss blown out of a Daladala window that passed by. (FYI: Daladalas are stripped down vans that most locals use for public transportation. They have about 9 actual seats in them, but usually have 20 people stuffed inside!)

As I turned around & headed back to home-base, I saw Mt. Kilimanjaro through the foliage every few yards. The rising sun hit the snow-capped peak in such a way that it shimmered with a golden glow. Words can’t describe – but the stunning view brought me immediately into the present moment. It really takes your breath away.

Back at home-base, our program leaders gave us an exercise to go into the neighborhood. My group was tasked with visiting a neighbor’s house, meeting the people that lived there, asking to view a kanga, and finding out more about the family.

We tentatively approached the house yelling out “Hodi!” – a Swahili greeting when you are approaching someone’s home. A young woman appeared inviting us into her backyard to sit “Karibu!”
Her name was Bebe and she was one of 5 siblings. Given the large Catholic population and lack of ready birth control, it seems Tanzanian families tend to be large. (There is also a strong sense of community, family, & kinship that reinforces this.)

Bebe set out cheap plastic chairs for each of us so we could sit and chat for a while. This appears to be very much a part of the Tanzanian culture. Even the poorest of the poor in mud huts have chairs and an area for you to sit, talk, and commune together. As Bebe knew very little English, we pulled out our Swahili phrasebooks and did our best to introduce ourselves, stumbling through the words, and attempting to get to know each other better.

We discovered that Bebe was learning to be a seamstress and she pulled out a dress or two that she’d made for herself. Then she showed us our first Kanga. Kangas are traditional East African wraps that are worn as skirts by the Tanzanian women. They are made of cotton and have beautiful colorful patterns on them with a Swahili phrase printed on one end. The garments are wrapped so that the phrases can be read and are viewable from the back.

The phrases are usually spiritual in nature. For example, “Mpaji ni Mungu” means “God is the Sustainer.”. They can sometimes send another message, though.

For example, a woman who has won a love battle with another woman might wear something that says “Kwangu anakula keki afuate nini kwako we hafkeki” which translates to “By having me he gets to eat a real cake, that’s why he doesn’t come to you as you are just a half-cake”. Sassy, eh? And here’s another one for a girl who recently got engaged, “Hodi hodi naikome mwaka ujao naolewa” which means “Knock, knock, should stop, as I’m getting married next year.”

Back to Bebe’s house…

We heard some strange noises coming from a small wooden hut in the corner of the yard, and Bebe introduced us to her family’s collection of no less than 6 grunting hogs! *lol* Next to her house was an orchard of trees laden with ripe mango & jackfruit. Bebe sent us home with a gift of a couple of mangoes and requested we come back to visit soon. A very gracious hostess…

After returning back to home-base, we had our first Swahili class. Only one person on our program had really studied the language prior to our arrival, so we were in sore need of a few key phrases for survival. I figure you never want to be without, “where is the nearest toilet”, right?

One we could stumble through some basic greetings, we were put to the test. Contacts from our various volunteer placements arrived for lunch. Surprisingly, there were not one but two contacts from WEECE there… John (an English teacher) and Jane (pronounced Jenny; a computer & sewing teacher). They both had very limited English (even though one was the English teacher *lol*), so it was difficult to communicate. This was to foreshadow the next few weeks ahead. They were enthusiastic and sweet, though, and we bid farewell knowing we’d see each other again tomorrow at WEECE.

After lunch, we piled back in the van and headed off to visit our first orphanage… (to be continued)

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